The Maginot Line, named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates, machine gun posts, and other defences, which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy after World War I, their grand intention being to render their country impregnable against attack for evermore. Those fortifications which face Germany tend to be referred to as 'The Maginot Line' and the fortifications strung out across the Alps facing Italy tend to be known as 'The Alpine Line'.

The theory behind the construction of the fortifications was to give France time to mobilise whilst funnelling invading German forces into open land, the better to be engaged there in a war of movement.  In the autumn of 1914 the opposing armies had fought to a standstill just short of Paris and then raced north west to the Belgian coast constantly attempting to outflank each other. The result was that by October 1914 a stalemate existed with the creation of a line of static trenches running all the way from the North Sea to the Swiss border, a stalemate which would not be broken until the British army employed radical new tactics following the German army's exhaustion after their so called 'Kaiserschlacht' spring offensive in March 1918.

The construction of the Maginot Line was intended to fulfil several purposes:

  • To avoid a surprise attack and to raise the alarm.
  • To provide time for the mobilisation of the French Army (which took between 2 and 3 weeks).
  • To save manpower (France had a population of 39 million, Germany 70 million.
  • To protect the Departments of Alsace and Lorraine which had been returned to France after the post Great War Treaty of Versailles.
  • To be used as a base from which to mount a counter-offensive.
  • To force an invading enemy to go the long way round the line and thus violate the neutrality of either Switzerland or Belgium.
  • To occupy the enemy whilst the French army could be brought up to reinforce the line.
  • To demonstrate a none aggressive posture.
  • To compel the British as signatories to the guarantee of Belgian neutrality to help France if Belgium was invaded again as it had been in 1914.

The line was without doubt an imposing obstacle to the potential progress of an invading army as can clearly be seen  - RIGHT -  on this period photograph of one of the armoured 'cloches' which has been hit numerous times with some quite sizeable ordnance, and yet is still perfectly functional. But paradoxically the theory that the massive strength and virtual impregnability of the fortification system would successfully dissuade an aggressor from invading France proved to be a huge strategic blunder. The Germans simply invaded through Belgium instead, exactly as they had done in 1914, flanking the Maginot Line in a matter of only a few days, whilst limited attacks mounted upon sections of the line led the French to believe that their master plan was actually working. What the French had singularly failed to appreciate was the speed and fire power of the modern German army who had learned valuable lessons from the British army's tactics after March 1918. Our radical new approach just 22 years earlier integrated every available facet of the war matérielle available to the generals of the time, and was referred to as 'All Arms' warfare. The Germans with characteristic flair, studied it, refined it and re-named it 'Blitzkrieg' which translates as 'lightning war'. Perversely the French had even had an early warning of what was to come in September, 1939 when the Wehrmacht invaded and knocked out Poland in just 35 days.

André Maginot,  - LEFT ABOVE -  a prominent politician before the outbreak of the Great War, had left the French government for the duration of the war and served as a soldier within a fort in the Verdun ring. His experiences there were to greatly influence many aspects of the design and construction of the new line of forts, now known as "ouvrages", indeed many component parts of the Maginot Line were practically identical to their counterparts from almost half a century before. Other aspects differed radically though, for example the relatively crude Verdun fortress accommodation originally did not even have proper latrines where as the Maginot Line ouvrages had state-of-the-art living conditions for the garrison troops, including air conditioning with filters to extract poison gas, comfortable barrack blocks, modern ablutions and kitchens. There were even underground railways to facilitate the movement of ammunition and men the considerable distances around within the massive subterranean labyrinths.

These  rather fanciful illustrations shown here were only two of the many which appeared in the press of the time - you may view much larger versions by clicking on these pictures. But artist's impressions they undoubtedly were for the very simple reason that the real details of the line were a closely guarded military secret. Propaganda is an important part of the dubious and often highly mendacious 'art' of warfare; after all, if you can convince your enemy that your weapons are far more formidable than they might actually prove to be in reality by 'leaking' valuable 'information' via the world press, and if you do it convincingly enough, then you can steal a march. Nothing is new, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein attempted to put the frighteners on the coalition forces before the first Gulf war by similar means.  The illustration shown on the right is very similar to an illustration in a book I bought from a friend at the age of 11 in my first year of secondary school which sparked my interest in the Maginot Line and would lead ultimately to my even greater interest in the earlier fortifications situated around the city of Verdun.   







To read our reports from Verdun click the photo link above.

Even though these fanciful illustrations were a long way away from the reality of the ouvrages in the line, for example there were few multi-level forts constructed except for a handful in the Alpine part of the line,  it doesn't take a quantum leap of imagination to realise just how large, complex and labour intensive they actually were to build, especially when you multiply the effort and cost by the huge number of ouvrages in the line. Another odd concept in many of the illustrations can be seen in the left illustration. The reality is that most of the ouvrages were constructed to a very linear in plan rather than compacted into a small footprint as seen above.

Whatever their design though they were massively expensive to build, maintain and run, and as a consequence the French government had to divert funding from every other area of military expenditure with the inevitable result that the French armed forces became effectively the poorest in Europe suffering dramatically right across the board. This of course would have a dramatic effect upon their ability to fight effectively beyond the limits of the line. The responsibility for design and implementation of the work was given to an organisation known as CORF (Commission d'Organisation des Régions Fortifiées) and construction began in 1930. By the completion of the initial phases in 1939 it had cost in excess of three billion French francs. The strongest part of the line stretched from Switzerland to Luxembourg, and a second much lighter section was built in 1934 to continue the line across to the coast at the Strait of Dover. The line did not cover the area eventually chosen by the Germans for their invasion of France, through the Belgian Ardennes forest, due to the fact that the heavily wooded and mountainous countryside in this area was considered by the French to be impassable to armoured vehicles and thus an attack was regarded as impossible through this area.  

                     Sadly they were very, very wrong.

 After the Second World War the line was repaired and extensively modified in order to present a barrier to the Soviet Union if a new war were to break out. With France's acquisition of it's own nuclear deterrent in 1960 the line became an expensive white elephant and so it began to be progressively abandoned with the exception of a few of the larger ouvrages which were converted to nuclear attack proof command centres. When France withdrew its commitment from NATO in 1966 almost the entire line was abandoned with many of the ouvrages being auctioned off to the public or simply left to decay.

Ouvrage Latiremont is a gros (large) ouvrage located in the Fortified Sector of the Crusnes, a sub-sector of Arrancy. It is situated between the gros ouvrage Fermont and the petit ouvrage Mauvais Bois, facing the Belgian border. The village of Doncourt-Cités is nearby. Latiremont saw limited action, coming under direct attack in late June, 1940. It surrendered to German forces on the 27th. June. Some of the fortresses within the line were occupied by the German army and saw action against American forces under General Patton in 1944 but Latiremont was not one of them.

Latiremont was completed at a cost of 88 million francs by the contractor Monod of Paris. Designed from the outset as a gros ouvrage with casemate-mounted 75mm guns, a second build phase was planned during which additional 75mm and 135mm gun turret blocks were to be installed. By the late 1930s though the financial resources for the expansion had been allocated elsewhere so the extra turret blocks were never built. There are more than 1,200 metres of underground tunnels connecting the two entry blocks, one for munitions. one for personnel, to the internal structures and the fighting blocks, at an average depth of 30 metres. An 'M1' type magazine, arranged with parallel galleries connected by cross galleries, is located close to the ammunition entrance, whilst the underground barracks, usine (power house) and utility areas are located just beyond the personnel entry. The gallery system was served by a narrow-gauge (60 cm) railway that was connected externally to the regional military railway system for the re-supply of the line forts just a few kilometres to the rear. Several stations along the gallery system, located in wider sections of the main gallery, permitted trains to pass.

Above - the French fortress garrison troops were the elite of their day.

Above - machine gun 'cloches' waiting to be built into the forts.

Above - German soldiers standing by an artillery casemate after the fall of France.

Latiremont has two entrances and six combat blocks.

Most of the blocks are in and around the Bois de Pracourt.

Ammunition entrance: two automatic rifle cloches (GFM), one machine gun/anti-tank embrasure (JM/AC47).
Personnel entrance: one GFM cloche, one grenade launcher cloche, one JM/AC47 embrasure
Block 1: Infantry block with two machine gun cloches (JM) and one GFM cloche.
Block 2: Infantry block with one machine-gun turret, one GFM cloche, one JM cloche and one periscope cloche (VDP).
Block 3: Infantry block with one machine-gun turret and one GFM cloche.
Block 4: Artillery block with one 81mm mortar turret, one JM embrasure, one JM/AC47 embrasure and one GFM cloche.
Block 5: Artillery block with three 75mm gun embrasures, two GFM cloches and one LG cloche/grenade launcher cloche (LG).
Block 6: Artillery block with three 75mm gun embrasures and two GFM cloches.

Unbuilt blocks:

Block 7: (unbuilt): Artillery block with a twin 75mm gun turret and two GFM cloches.
Block 8: (unbuilt): Artillery block with a twin 135mm gun turret, one grenade launcher cloche and one GFM cloche.

Casemates and shelters - a series of detached casemates and infantry shelters surround Latiremont, including the:

Casemate de Jalaumont Ouest: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure and one GFM cloche.
Casemate du Haut-de-l'Anguille Ouest: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure and two GFM cloches.
Casemate du Haut-de-l'Anguille Est: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure and two GFM cloches.
Casemate du Bois-de-Tappe Ouest: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure and two GFM cloches.
Casemate du Bois-de-Tappe Est: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure and two GFM cloches.
Casemate de l'Ermitage Saint-Quentin: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure, one mortar cloche and one GFM cloche.
Casemate de Pracourt: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, two mortar cloches and two GFM cloches.

NB: none of these are connected to the ouvrage or to each other. The Casernement de Doncourt provided peacetime above-ground barracks and support services to Latiremont and other ouvrages in the area.


Below is a selection of the photographs we took in and around the Gros Ouvrage Latiremont in June 2012.

To view any of the photographs in a far bigger size then click on the image of your choice and it will open in a new window.

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There is very little to see of the Maginot Line, even from just a short distance away.

The ammunition entrance.


The huge armoured doors are protected against enemy infantry attack by machine guns ported through armoured crenels.

In the distance is the personnel entrance protected on top by two cloches carrying machine guns and grenade launchers.

The entrance is further protected by more machine gun crenels at the lower level.

Crossing fields of fire from the MG crenels.

Inside the fort we descend 148 steps alongside the lift.


At the bottom can be seen a heater and an escape ladder behind the lift doors.

The sheer scale of the tunnels is very intimidating at first sight!

A service tunnel door.


Inside the narrow service tunnels the hangers on the wall to carry services are exactly the same as we saw in the Verdun forts.

This chamber was probably a storage area.

Entering the Usine (generator plant room).
Electrical distribution and ventilation pipes.
Within the Usine three of the four generators are gone now.
Switch gear for the generators.
A chain hoist for maintenance work on the generators.
The huge diesel engine which drives the associated generator.
Part of a generator stator.
The Usine workshop, one of two in the ouvrage.
Rotting spare parts on the workshop bench.
A large pillar drill.
We couldn't work out what this is.
The lathe and pillar drill.
Entering the barrack block accommodation.

Large gauges on the tunnel roof.


A machine gun crenel defends the passageway in the event of enemy penetration of the fort.

I can't see this being military somehow because it's the size of a child's toy pram!


Part of the interior blast door mechanism presumably fitted after WW2 to harden the tunnels against nuclear attack. The steel door is about 10" thick.

More interior gates to slow down enemy progress along the tunnels behind the barracks.


Part of the massive ventilation system, originally designed to over pressurise the fort interior to proof against poison gas.


One of the barrack rooms which originally contained several three high bunk beds for the soldiers. Cosiness of this nature would have been all too familiar to a Verdun fort veteran!

Zinc plated latrines - rather superior sanitation when compared to the buckets used in the Verdun forts.

These stairs lead up to the ubiquitous squatting plate toilets, again so familiar to a Verdun vet!

The extra height to the toilet cubicles is a bit of a mystery frankly though we know that the toilets were flushed into septic tanks which drained off into the fort's main drain. Perhaps the tanks are directly beneath the squatting plates.
A side tunnel connects the main thoroughfare of the fort to the barrack block tunnels.

An engineering store room.
Many of the original light fittings still hold incandescent bulbs.
This is possibly a drinking fountain.
This bath has been removed and stored in this room. Many of the privately owned forts are restored with fittings and fixtures acquired from the abandoned and un-adopted forts.
A much lighter blast door separates the main barrack block corridor from the principle 'gare' (railway) thoroughfare of the fort.

At intervals along the 'gare' tunnel are what we took to be either heaters or vent plants ported out to the surface. Some had been sealed with gravel from above.

A second workshop with an identical lathe to the first.


Odds and sods abandoned by the engineers and thrown about by salvagers.
We think this signage on the wall is a location marker saying basically that here at point D you are 135 meters from the personnel entrance.
I had the utmost difficulty light-painting tunnels which run for in excess of 3/4 mile!
Entering through the first of two blast doors which seal off a fighting compartment.
The second door has a smaller personnel door in the middle to allow passage of troops whilst closed down for battle.
This is the ammunition handling area below the main lift up into a triple 75mm artillery 'Bloc'.

Flat bed ammunition trucks run on the 60cm railway from the 'M1' magazine over half a mile distant.


Starry starry night...the next shell's gonna blow you to sh*te!

...with apolgies to Don McClean!

Part of the shell handling mechanism which works in conjunction with an overhead monorail.

The main lift bottom station is badly flooded.


247 steps and 30 metres closer to the surface later we are at the top of the same lift and standing in the command level of the artillery bloc.
And one level higher still, and by now above ground level, we are directly behind the artillery crenel in the centre of the 3 gun bloc.
Back down at the bottom again and we leave the bloc through the outer blast door.
We have continued along the gare towards the engine store at the end of the tunnel.

Beyond the gates is the engine store room.


It doesn't look much like a locomotive but it is, and it pulled ammunition, stores and personnel along the gare powered by electricity.
I turned to warn TJ to watch her step because there was a flooded inspection pit behind the loco... one very wet leg later I took this photo!
Another blast door leads us into another of the fighting blocs.

The door mechanisms remind one of a submarine.


Part way along this bloc access tunnel we came across this room with a huge table in the middle.

The table positively shouts, "Operating theatre" but normally the infirmary was adjacent to the barracks, so this remains a bit of an enigma.

More ventilation plant.


An end on view of one of the enormous blast doors, presumably installed when the forts were hardened against Soviet atomic attack in the 1950s.

A passing point on the gare just short of the magazine.


Way beyond the personnel entrance now we continued towards the munitions entrance which is protected with a machine gun installed in an armoured crenel.

More 60cm  flat bed ammunition trolleys.


The M1 magazine railway sidings. Ammunition was brought down in the lift and distributed amongst the magazine compartments.

A magazine compartment door beyond which there is a right angled wall to contain blast.
Yet more of the 60cm gauge railway trolleys.

At the bottom of the ammunition lift.


On the way out of the fort now, we are in a fighting compartment directly above the access corridor.

We found this odd looking weapon dumped here. It's not at all clear what it is but it looks about 135mm calibre.

The access corridor back to the top sides world!
Phew! Result!!!
Time to go and have a wander around the bloc structures topsides.
TJ is dwarfed by the concrete entrance bloc.


A GM cloche which was used for observation and to mount machine guns.

Although this is shot with a wide angle lens it really was very high up on the top of the bloc.

Looking back towards the 'EH' entrance to the fort.


On the roof of Bloc 4 now, this is a double 85mm breach loading mortar turret.

Bloc 5 is situated deep in a very dark and heavily overgrown wood. This is the bloc we had ascended inside the fort and is a type very similar in concept to the 'Bourges Casemates' seen around Verdun.

Looking suitably smug, here's TJ on the roof of Bloc 4 by the GM cloche.

...and completely kn*ck*r*d, here's me!
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